The Key West Mystique

Key West Island News


Key West Island News connects Key West residents and friends of the island, fosters our One Human Family culture and advances understanding of shared goals for our island community

Key West Crud

How to tell if that cough is the Key West Crud or COVID-19

By Linda Grist Cunningham, editor and proprietor

Linda Grist Cunningham is editor and proprietor of Key West Island News and KeyWestWatch Media LLC. She and her husband, a park ranger at Fort Zach, live in Key West with their Cat 5s.


While I was supposed to be listening to the sermon in church this past Sunday, I was instead taking stock of my symptoms. Tickle in throat to promise a full-out cough coming soon. Stuffy nose to remind me to add tissues to the grocery list. A bit of the overall achy stuff but no bone-rattling. Crikey, I just sneezed (caught in the elbow; yay me) No fever.

Ah ha! Note: no fever and no bone-rattling aches. Diagnosis: Key West Crud.

That’s what we call the common human coronavirus, which causes most of the common colds and upper respiratory infections that plague the island every winter. Because there’s no fever and no bone-rattling aches — and because I never miss a flu shot — neither are my church-annotated symptoms likely to be this season’s influenza strains.

Key West Crud shares many symptoms of COVID-19, that headline grabbing novel coronavirus (fancy term for new version of a well-known family of older viruses). Key West Crud also can resemble the flu. But, though there could be exceptions, if there’s not a soaring fever (like 104+ degrees) and if the aches don’t have you locked in place under the covers with the cats, you’re likely to have fallen victim to Key West Crud.

Key West Crud is a thing. Well, at least we talk about it like it’s a thing. Long about December and lasting through, oh, say, Mother’s Day, we share the crud with friends, family and the lucky tourists who go home and tell people what a wonderful time they had but just can’t seem to shake the cold and cough they picked up along the way. The Key West Crud is, unfortunately, perhaps our parting gift to visitors.

Key West is a daycare-kind-of Petri dish for the common human coronavirus and seasonal influenza. Like parents of school-age children, we catch everything that goes around the tiny island. We live cheek-by-jowl, we are rarely more than three-feet apart, we congregate in small spaces, go to school and to work and we spend an inordinate amount of time passing around food and beverages. Is it any wonder we share the Key West Crud?

Local docs offer the usual advice: get rest, drink plenty of liquids, take an aspirin if you need it, wash your hands, stay home if you can, sneeze into your elbow and stick with air kisses for a week or two.

Until the COVID-19 meltdown of the past month, none of us gave more than a passing thought to the Key West Crud. We just do what the docs said and come June we are well again. Now, I come home from church and think seriously about making a sign to hang around my neck that says: Key West Crud: Not COVID-19. No need to wave the cross or grab the garlic.

COVID-19 is, well, nothing to sneeze at. It’s a new virus without a roadmap for how to stop it, fix it, cure it, prevent it. We’re freaking out over new cases and counting deaths without the slightest contextual understanding that the more we test for COVID-19, the more reported cases there will be and we imagine that more cases mean higher death rates. We give no shrift to the idea that perhaps, just perhaps, the more reported cases there are, the lower the death rate per thousand. Numbers work like that.

Pretty much, I suspect, we’re all going to be exposed to COVID-19. It’s moving fast, contagious and likely to make most of us feel like we’ve got a miserable case of Key West Crud. The odds are excellent that by the start of the next flu season, there will be a vaccine. That’s what happened with H1N1 in 2009, which killed an estimated 284,000 people around the world. Our seasonal flu shots now vaccinate against H1N1.

Look, if you’re predisposed to panic, I can’t say anything to calm you. That’s OK; you be you; I’ll be me. Fact is, I am less concerned about COVID-19 than I am about millions of scared people making decisions out of context and out of fear. Bad things happen when we let our fear shape our futures.

We’re going to be OK. If Road Scholar doesn’t cancel the trip, Ranger Ed and I are going to the Mediterranean in June. Bookmark this link for lots of sane, sensible information. But as I told friends around a wine-tasting Saturday, if I am wrong, then I’ll leave $50 for a decent bottle of wine that y’all can share when I’m gone. Now, go wash your hands with soap.







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